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Q&A: 'The Hangover: Part III' star Justin Bartha

In “The Hangover: Part III,” Justin Bartha’s Doug isn’t just lost or sidelined while his pals and brother-in-law deal with constant mayhem. He’s kidnapped and an organized crime boss threatens his life.

“I think Doug is probably looking for new friends at this point,” says Bartha, who grew up in Michigan and remembers going to Dick’s Last Resort as a kid when his family came to Chicago. “His life and his family have been in danger too often. He’s too normal and grounded to be in this situation anymore.”

Fortunately for Doug, he won’t have to be. “The Hangover: Part III” wraps up the trilogy with plenty of laughs and a different storyline than usual: There’s no wedding or hazy detective work in the wake of a blackout night. Rather, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) search for the gold Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) swiped from Marshall (John Goodman), the crime boss.

If they fail, goodbye Doug.

By phone from Las Vegas (where else?), 34-year-old Bartha talked about Doug’s role in the Wolf Pack, brawling with Vin Diesel and his recently canceled sitcom “The New Normal.”
 
“The Hangover: Part III” opens the same weekend as “Fast and Furious 6.” How would the Wolf Pack fare in a brawl with those guys?
I’m always for brains over brawn. In a physical fight, I still think we’d win. We have a deeper bench than “The Fast and the Furious.” I do think that this third movie is absolutely more of an action-adventure movie, so I’d like to say that we’re the “Fast and Furious” of comedies. So you might as well see us because you’re going to get a two-fer.
 
As the brawl gets going, who would Doug spar with?
Doug would probably get a few really great punches in early on, and then he’d disappear and he’d come back at the end and save the day.
 
Just poke Vin Diesel a couple times and run?
In the beginning, he’d probably get a few good punches in on Vin Diesel, and then all of a sudden he’d be gone. Then at the very end Vin Diesel would just about to be throwing a punishing blow at Zach and Bradley and Ed, and then out of nowhere Doug would fly in and save the day.
 
How do you assess Doug’s role in the Wolf Pack?
He’s the grounding element. Once you take the grounding element away, the real craziness can happen. Doug is the guy that you need to save. The big difference between him [and the others] is he’s kind of in a drama instead of a comedy. So everything that happens is real and the stakes have to be as high as possible, so that it means something if they rescue him.
 
If Doug had a spinoff movie of his own, how would that go?
I would say it probably be something like “Eat Pray Love”--Doug traveling around Europe, eating great food and having love affairs.
 
That sounds entertaining, I guess.
[Laughs.] I don’t know about entertaining. [It would be tough] to get financing at all for purely a Doug movie, but I think if there was one that would be what would happen.
 
Now that I’m talking to you, I’ve interviewed all four members of the Wolf Pack. I know who I think is most and least like his character, but I’m curious what you think.
Probably Ken Jeong is the most unlike his character. He’s got the craziest character, and he’s a very nice guy and a good guy in real life.
 
What about the core four?
I don’t know. You tell me.
 
In my experience, Zach is extremely down to earth and kind and not at all the wacky character he sometimes projects.
Oh, of course. If he was that like his character, I don’t think he’d be able to function in real life. The guy is a complete idiot. Zach is actually a very smart, kind, gracious human being. But none of the guys are really like their character. It’s just a part in a movie … but actors always bring a little piece of themselves in every character they play. I think Ed is probably most like his character just because he’s a little bit old-fashioned in real life, so I think that [transfers] into the character.
 
Did you have a gut feeling about the fate of “The New Normal,” and how are you feeling in the wake of its cancellation?
I feel great because we accomplished quite a bit I think in the one season of the show. My gut feeling was that it would probably be canceled, but you never know. Network television is in a bit of an awkward stage right now. I think it’s got a long way to go. I think the fact that we got a show like “The New Normal” on the air at all in the first place is a testament to the NBC executives that usually get quite a bit of flack. I think it was brave to have them put on a show that depicts a homosexual relationship in a realistic way. I’ve never seen that on network television before, and that’s what we set out to do. That was the most important thing between Ryan Murphy and us … First seasons of all television shows are very difficult, and I think we had a lot of really beautiful and poignant episodes, and that is more than I could ever hope for to be honest.
 
Do you think that in the next few years there will be a windfall of states legalizing gay marriage?
One hundred percent. I think it’s only a matter of time. Unfortunately, the time has come and passed. We’re a bit behind the curve. The great Bill Clinton, who has had controversial views on gay marriage and obviously not very favorable views, has evolved over the years in his viewpoint on the subject, and I think America will also evolve and has been evolving. Television and entertainment play a big part of that, and I think “The New Normal”--it was a drop in a bucket, but it was absolutely in the right direction. It’s only a matter of time. Inequality is not going to be stomached for too long in a time where everyone is connected.
 
I think there’s a decent amount of homophobia in movies, particularly comedy. Do you think that will change as more states legalize gay marriage?
No, I don’t think they’re very connected. Comedy is supposed to be a mirror to society. There’s, in my opinion, very few people that make Hollywood movies that are trying to be evil and vindictive with their humor. They’re just trying to make people laugh. Unfortunately, there’s still an extreme amount of homophobia, racism and hatred in the world and in this country specifically. You can just go on the Internet and read any comments section for “The New Normal” or for anything that has to do with homosexuality or equality. We have a long way to go as people and the homophobia that you see in entertainment, from my perspective, a lot of times it’s misconstrued. It’s taken the wrong way. There’s a difference between trying to make people laugh and talking about the issues. It’s not always connected.
 
It’s an interesting point about the intentions being good, though it reminds me of “A Haunted House” and Nick Swardson’s character, whose big joke was pretty much how flamboyantly gay he was. That to me didn’t seem like it was trying to address an issue, just make a mockery.
I think people are smart in general. I think they can tell what has a good intention and what doesn’t. Even in the “Hangover” movie, Zach Galifianakis gets a lot of questions about using the N-word and if we want to spread racism. The problem in my opinion with some media and also [the] perception of entertainment is people have a trigger reaction to try to be insulted instead of actually thinking about the context of [how] a joke is used or a conversation is used. We’ve come to a time in our world where context means nothing and it’s just about sound bites. If people stop for a second and realize that Alan, the character that Zach plays, is a moron, he’s an idiot, and [some] idiots use homophobic and racist remarks ... If you’re watching the movie and you’re identifying with the idiot, then maybe you’re an idiot. But if you see an idiot and laugh at the idiot making a stupid remark, then that actually is a joke and you should take it as a joke and lighten up and take the power out of certain words and move on with your life.
 
Plus:
Comparing working with Nicolas Cage on “National Treasure” and the cast of “The Hangover”: “There’s more similarities than differences in that Nic Cage and everyone in ‘The Hangover’ are very talented and they all remind me of wild animals … I think [Cage would] be honored to be compared to a wild animal.”
How he’d rank Vegas, Bangkok and Tijuana in terms of craziness: Vegas, Bangkok, Tijuana

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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